For weeks leading up to this crazy mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico I’ve experienced more emotions than I ever would like to feel in regards to doing such a fun trip. Mostly I’ve been excited, but I’ve also been very nervous and even scared at times about what on earth I’m getting myself into.
I’m racing the Tour Divide, a fully unsupported 2,735-mile mountain bike race along double-track and dirt roads all the way from Canada to Mexico. I’ve heard that there are about 200,000 feet of elevation gain, and because it’s a race, I’m hoping finish in about 25 to 28 days. That’s about 100 miles a day on rough roads and trails for almost a month without a rest day. Ouch!
I arrived in Banff a few days early on the 9th of June. Even after all the research and training I’d been doing, I still felt a bit intimidated. Despite that, I love being in these situations – immersed in the great outdoors – and I’ve spent enough time on similar trips to know (for the most part) what I’m signing up for. I decided what I was feeling was just pre-race jitters.
Why Race the Tour Divide?
The scene in Banff was amazing. Tour Divide racers were gathering together for this unsanctioned underground race. Everyone had the exact same nervousness, yet with a laid-back, grounded outlook on adventure and life. Yes it’s a bike race, but it’s so much more. And that’s the real reason we’re here.
The race started on Friday, June 12th, at 8:00 a.m. on a very cool morning with ominous clouds on the horizon. After leaving with the Grand Depart on Friday morning, my longtime friend Chuck and I were able to settle into a comfortable pace. A few hours in and the clouds turned nasty, and it quickly became cold and muddy. Luckily it only rained a few hours on Day 1, and it has been beautiful and sunny ever since. I’m not saying that I’m praying for rain, but 1,000 miles of beating sun and dusty roads can take a toll on you too.
On the first day of the race I was starting to worry that I was going to miss a turn or crash because I couldn’t stop gawking at the scenery. Thankfully that didn’t last too long. Now that I’ve settled into the race, I’ve become rather used to the unbelievably beautiful views. While I still enjoy them, I’ve learned to focus more on the maps. Missing a turn happens at least 2 or 3 times a day, but that’s all part of it.
What it’s Really Like
During the race, I typically wake up at 4:30 a.m., drag my tired butt out of bed by 4:45 a.m., and then slam as much coffee, oatmeal, and granola bars as possible. Usually I’m on the bike within an hour and immediately starting to think about the next town with a diner. I estimate that I’ve been eating about 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day and am probably burning more than that. At first it felt like the pace of the race was excruciatingly slow, but I’ve come to quickly realize that it’s all about self-preservation. Going too hard and fast will only injure you a few miles down the (dirt) road.
There are times where I’ve had to push my bike for miles over badly rutted, double-track roads and other times that I’m screaming down some Montana mountainside at 30 mph. Overall, I’d say that my speed usually averaged about 10 mph for the entire day.
At least once a day I ride through some old, tiny mountain town where I can grab a huge breakfast or burger and resupply with more granola bars. Then I ride out for another 20+ mile climb back over the Continental Divide. After about 12-14 hours of pedaling, I make it to my daily goal of about 110 miles. Ideally I’m in my bivvy by 9 or 10 p.m.
I’m almost out of Montana now, which feels great. Next up I get to see how the Wyoming winds and Colorado Rockies treat me before the dry deserts of New Mexico. Stay tuned…
Mike Dicken, Bike and Ski Technician, Jans Park Avenue